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Settlers burn Bil’in’s Center for Peace

Kristen Ess | Palestine News Network

The western Ramallah town of Bil’in is known for its unrelenting resistance to occupation, particularly to the Wall that crisscrosses its land.

In the West Bank, the Wall and settlements generally come hand in hand. The Wall is not only routed to take the water supply, but also to bring more territory into Israeli boundaries via the settlements built on Palestinian lands.

During the night a group of Israeli settlers broke into Bil’in’s Center for Peace. It is a room kept by residents to ensure Palestinian presence on the land on the “other side of the Wall” despite harassment by settlers and soldiers.

Until a month ago Bil’iners took shifts 24 hours day. That was until the Israeli soldiers in the area drove them out. Under a ruling by an Israeli court three years ago Bil’in residents are “allowed” to pass through a gate in the Wall in order to reach their land, and that includes the Center for Peace. But last month Israeli soldiers forbade their presence at night. Instead the settlers were given reign to roam freely in view of the soldiers who are omnipresent in this part of the occupied West Bank.

This morning two young men headed out of the center of the village to take their day shift in the room, to enforce their rightful presence on their land and their steadfastness. But what the Bil’in residents found was a Center of Peace trashed and burned.

“They set fire to everything,” said Iyad Burnat of the Popular Committee against the Wall. “They burned the chairs, the furniture, even the Qu’ran.”

The Director of the local nonviolent resistance movement hosts weekly demonstrations against the Wall as he has every Friday, save for the eight times he has been jailed for his popular activities that confront the occupation.

“We called our lawyer who contacted the Israeli police who deal with the settlers from Matayah Mizrah Settlement. They have been on the case recently, before this, because last week the settlers came and broke the windows of the Center of Peace and stole the gas canisters,” Burnat told PNN Tuesday. “It’s been more than four times that the settlers have come at night and broken things, stolen things.”

The people of Bil’in had been guarding their land and their Peace Center 24 hours a day for three years, attempting to protect it from the marauding settlers until the soldiers forbade them last month. The Israeli soldiers themselves are now the only the witnesses to the criminal acts of the settlers.

Burnat told PNN today that the resistance will not be deterred despite what he describes as an increased violence on the part of both the settlers and soldiers who attack Bil’in.

“We are going to fix the room again because we have to have people who stay there and take care of our land, we have to look out for our land.”

Bil’in residents are able to pass the gate in the Wall, however harassment is not rare and there is often a checkpoint in place. The court decision for passage did not return the land to Bil’in, nor did it stop the Wall or the settlements which exist in contravention to international law, the decision of the International Court of Justice, and to existing United Nations resolutions.

Burnat said, “It is clear that the settlers want to destroy the people, our things, our land and lives. The violence is escalating on their part, along with that of the soldiers. But we are still strong in our resistance to the Wall and in protecting our land. We protest the soldiers and the Wall and the settlers. And we will return to our land.”

The Bil’in resident and director of the Popular Committee added, “We are going to return to the room, to the Center of Peace, with new chairs, with new furniture, new everything. We are going to clean it up and fix it. This fire will not keep us away from our land.”